Is your boozer to blame for Middle East blackout?

It appears the English Premier League are not at all pleased with the odd local in the UK screening some Saturday 3pm kick offs due to a dispute with Al Jazeera Sports regarding

It appears the English Premier League are not at all pleased with the odd local in the UK screening some Saturday 3pm kick offs due to a dispute with Al Jazeera Sports regarding, it would seem, illegal broadcasting of matches in the UK licensed for broadcast in the Middle East and North Africa only. Unfair to the lower leagues, you see.

Show a football match from the top flight and football fans across the UK will, apparently, abandon supporting their local team which their family’s probably supported for a number of generations in order to watch Norwich and Cardiff play out a 0-0 in the comfort of their local boozer or at home with their illicit Al Jazeera Smart Card.

Surely there’s a whole melting pot of different variables from one week to the next that could influence attendance figures at a lower league ground. Like the team being rubbish, for example. Also, it could be argued, the EPL is showing a great deal of arrogance in suggesting a fan would turn his back on his beloved team in a nano-second in order to view a match from the highest tier in English football.

In fact I’d suggest it’s quite possible that it’s indeed the other way round – a lot of people returning to the lower leagues to nourish their love of football disgusted by the way Premier clubs, as they see it, abuse their fans as nothing more than cashcows. So that’s why the local boozer is only partly to blame that I haven’t been able to watch West Ham so much over the last few weeks and a miniscule part at that. Why is this important? Well let me put it in to some sort of context.

Since I arrived on these shores 10 years ago I have always enjoyed the ability to watch the Premier League. Be that in a pub on a Saturday evening with friends or at home if I chose to subscribe to the packages on offer. Over these 10 years the rights have changed hands amongst various broadcasters, some offering it as an included package in monthly subscriptions, and some offering it as an additional charge per month.

This year, after much delay, Al Jazeera won the rights but we were charged the highest subscription rates if we wanted to watch at home, double the cost compared to last season’s rights holder’s charges. Weighing up the pros and cons, though, with AJ also carrying the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, English Championship, Spanish, French and Italian Leagues and thinking ahead to the World Cup next summer, it was worth getting.

And for the first few weeks of the season things were great. All matches were beamed in to my home in HD, coverage was far better than previous offerings and everyone was happy. Including, it seems, in the UK too as it transpired Al Jazeera has allegedly failed to incorporate proper security measures to ensure their smartcards could only work in licensed regions and many were finding their way to the UK – thus the problem of illegal broadcasts. The plug was then pulled on AJ showing all but one of the Saturday 3pm kick offs.

All but one? Surely allowing one match to be shown at that time means that pubs in UK still have access to show an illegal match? Some would argue that sticking on any EPL match at that time would help boost custom to some degree, so does that eradicate the problem the EPL is keen to fix? Not really. What it does do however, is continue to punish the football fan in the Middle East.

It also punishes bars here who gear a lot of their marketing, their budgets and their energy to promoting their venue on a Saturday night. Many alcohol brands design special offers, two for one deals and the like, competitions to win trips to matches in the EPL to entice people in to bars on a Saturday evening. Remember, in this part of the world Saturday evening is a school night — the equivalent of sitting in your local on a Sunday evening wishing it was the start of the weekend and not the end so getting people out and about is more of a challenge than catering for a normal Saturday night crowd.

Footie fans who’ve paid double last year to keep watching their beloved clubs are up in arms. The fact the matches were pulled one Saturday a few weeks ago just added to their ire. Will they resume their monthly payments when and if this dispute gets sorted out? At the moment it’s quite frankly a mess and needs to be sorted quickly.

Al Jazeera has not done itself proud with its PR handling of the issue — silence generally. The EPL comes out of this badly as it seems their desire to bring ‘the best league in the world’ to as much of the world as possible goes out of the window when it comes to Saturday afternoons. It is, of course, the fan that loses out and although the continued wrangle might be temporary what price can you put on the potential damage that’s been created?

With so many other options available to us both locally out and about and at the touch of a button at home will the appetite for the EPL still be as high when normal service has resumed? The big question is what price can you put on damaged reputation, will bars be quick to sign on for next season? Will the pubic be happy to fork our for a subscription at home? Maybe the EPL thinks it’s not such a big deal that a few of us miss out on a few matches in order for them to make their point but they’re playing a game that’s angering the football fan the most.

For me, I’ve taken the silver lining approach to the issue, if I can’t watch us play I can’t get so depressed about how badly we’ve played!

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